Reading with Discernment

  • 28 July 2017
  • Keith Reed

men reading with magnifying glassIn 2014, it was reported that 90% of the world’s data was created within the past two years [1]. The exponential rate in which information is being created not only floods us with options, it surrounds us with content that is extremely recent. Many of us read articles and blogs that are written by authors we’ve never heard of or published by organizations we know little about.  

This requires us to develop guidelines to determine what is truthful. As we encounter volumes of new content each day, it is important to develop criteria to assess what we are reading. New is not necessarily better. Not all opinions are equally valid. Choosing to consume information without a critical eye is a recipe for being deceived.  

Let’s remember that Jesus called himself "the truth" (John 14:6) and that he was sent into the world to "testify to the truth" (John 18:37). He also highlighted the importance of discernment by warning his followers of being deceived [2]. 

  • "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them." (Matt 7:15-16a) 
  • "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matt 10:16)  
  • "Watch out that no one deceives you." (Matt 24:4) 

How do the warnings of Jesus apply to our current context?

Let's remember that much of the content we read today is designed to create a following. Individuals with the largest followings are typically regarded as experts, even if their message is Biblically flawed or misleading. Expertise is attributed to those with an established platform, regardless of whether the subject matter has anything to do with that person's actual expertise. The more followers a person has, the more credibility they receive. This is the formula that empowers actors to sell their nutrition books and athletes to rally support for their political campaign. It's not always a bad thing, but it does carry the risk of having questionable content influence many people over a short amount of time.  

Every reader should also be quick to consider the source of what they're reading. Considering alternative perspectives can be a fruitful experience, so long as we're reading critically. The danger comes from digesting and adopting whatever we come across without comparing it to Biblical truth and time-tested doctrine. 

Here then are my suggestions for reading with discernment:  

1. Consider education – what have they studied?